Are Tweens dropping out of music?


Have you ever taught upper elementary or middle school music? If you have then you probably already know what a tween is .. and you also probably know it can be a real challenge.

When we’re talking tweens we’re talking about children aged between around 10-12 years of age. These kids are way too big for elementary music activities such as playing recorders, xylophones and singing, but they’re not quite developmentally ready to take on some full sized instruments and be part of a full band program or learning instruments such as guitars and drum kit. Also the boys at this age will start to experience voice changes – so it can an enormous challenge for music teachers to get some of them to sing even a single note!

The Statistics
Because of these difficulties, it prompted us to have at some research studies and it appears that some of our tweens are more likely to drop out of music in schools:

According to survey polls based in Australia, US and the UK, the common trend is that the vast majority of music learners start their music education prior to entering their teens. When a US Gallup Poll surveyed 1000 households from ages 12 plus in 2003, they found 64% started music lessons between the ages of 5-11 years old. Only 18% began lessons between the ages of 12-14 years old

A similar 2001 poll put together by the Music Council Of Australia records almost a third of the population surveyed ceased to play before the hit teenagehood and a further 30% drop out by the time they hit 15 years of age.

In the UK, a 2012 Ofsted (the organization tasked with the regular inspection of schools in the UK ) article, stated only 1 in 5 schools were judged as inadequate for music.

Mixed Messages
But despite some of these “doom and gloom” statistics, it’s not all bad! When I was browsing through a bunch of websites, I found this independent survey where nearly 500 young people from all over the world took part in expressing their feelings about music. The organizers found that tweens and teens worldwide shared four powerful universal themes and trends emerged when it came to listening and enjoying music:

1. Music is Life
Without music, these teens agreed that they would be “lost.” Their lives would be a lot quieter and a lot less special.

2. Music is Helpful
Music was there to help these teens through particularly troubling or difficult moments of their lives: death, depression, self-harm, and break-up were all soothed thanks to the lyrical inspiration of their favorite, meaningful songs.

3. Music is Strength
On the same token, music gave these teens strength to persevere through the tough moments in life. Some of these songs saved these teens’ lives; others reminded them that they mattered.

4. Music is Memories
Songs hold specific memories—sometimes more than one. These teens were flooded with fond and sometimes bittersweet memories when listening to these songs.”

Music Paradox
It seems wrong that research suggests that tweens and teens tend to drop out of music classes in schools at higher rates, when they love to listen to it.

So it made us look into possible reasons why do some upper elementary and middle school students start dropping out of music classes when the subject is no longer compulsory in some schools – even though they seem to love to listening to music:

The Ofsted school inspection organization in the Uk report that in some schools inspectors simply don’t see enough music being played in music classrooms.

The Australian Music Council suggests possible reasons for this drop in retention is due to the cessation of compulsory music lessons in schools at these ages, but also notes that there is less interest from the students and perhaps more interest in other areas.

Making Music Relevant
For us here at the Fun Music Company a take-away point from some of these poll and survey statistics is that sometimes we need to continue to meet the age appropriate needs of our students in our music classes.

We feel that upper elementary students need special attention and curriculum variations to suit their development and confidence.

As a result, we’ve come up with some upper elementary and middle school practical programs which don’t involve singing, recorders, xylophones, smaller untuned percussion instruments such as claves and castanets as used in early elementary years and voice.

Now don’t get me wrong here.. if you have students especially in upper elementary school who are still enjoying these type of activities- then common sense prevails and keep doing what you’re doing

But if your upper elementary students are getting uninspired and de-motivated, then why not try something new.

Recently, we’ve come up with some exciting new Practical Music Lessons Series that are perfect if you need to meet the changing needs of your upper elementary “tween” students. Of course these resources are not just limited to this age group- they’re perfect for any mid – upper elementary class that needs a little variety and fun in their classes.

You also don’t need any fancy equipment or technology to run these programs in your classroom: the resources are made to adapt your needs despite what budget you may or may not have in your school. With these resources you can easily print out music or play a CD backing track along with your students to help make the music come alive and sound great straight away.

Hopefully it’s one little step closer to helping schools retain students in music classes!



  • By Josée Reply

    Hello Janice,
    It is indeed a challenge to motivate students from 10-12 years of age in a music class. Your ideas for activities are definitely interesting. I used to teach music classes in french to grade school students and one difficulty I met was that parents give very little importance to music education. They consider music class a free period and most children take part in that philosophy. In my province students can fail music class and still be promoted to the next grade since music is not considered obligatory in the school curriculum. The schools in my province have to find innovative ways to maintain budgets for music classes and many schools have decided to eliminate music completely from the curriculum. I hope someday that most parents will consider the importance of teaching music to children and all it will contribute to their overall academic courses.
    Thank you for the contribution you give to music educators all over the world.
    Josée (Quebec, Canada)

  • By Cindy Reply

    Hello Janice and Josee,
    Having just completed and submitted my research minor thesis on teenage boys’ attitudes to and participation in school music in rural Australia, I feel that I may have a small understanding of the range of reasons that teenagers particularly boys drop out of music classes.
    Yes, the undervaluing of music by parents is an issue(especially rural parents who are practical people) and Yes schools do undervalue music.
    These are only part of the problem though-other issues for teenagers include-puberty, self-esteem, self-confidence as personal issues and a desire to be recognised by their peers(not as musicians).
    Music for teenagers is a social activity, consequently the enjoyment of music listening. Making enjoyable music together in a group encourages participation eg music with beat and rhythm that doesn’t necessarily involve musicians with instrumental skills such as keyboard or wind players,rather using percussive instruments such as cardboard boxes, claves or simply body percussion(foot-stomping).
    I feel that the western education system which is politically motivated(keeping up with global Jones’s) is the most basic issue for music education decline in our schools.
    We need more music advocates and we need the parent groups in schools to demand that their school have a cultural balance with their sporting program.After all not every child aspires to be a sporting hero and is not into physical activities.
    Music develops in the brain as a basic intelligence(Howard Gardner) and is a precursor to speech and language. I don’t understand then why it is so undervalued.
    Schools which have a cultural/sporting balance seem to perform better as a co operative school community.
    Governments(including Australia and the US) comment on the value of an holistic education and that every child deserves an holistic education. Surely this includes music and music advocacy?
    Governments need to support music education in schools financially.
    Lastly, cultural pursuits(concerts etc) contribute to Australia’s economy, as I am sure would be the case in other countries.
    Music advocate,

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